Courtney Maum will appear at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison this Wednesday evening, April 29th, at 7:00 p.m. to discuss I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You. This event is free and open to the public; registration can be completed online or by calling the store at 203-245-3959. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Location: 768 Boston Post Rd.
Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Courtney Maum.
Ms. Maum is the debut novelist of I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You (Touchstone, $16.00). Her earlier work includes the chapbook “Notes from Mexico” from The Cupboard Press and a self-published collection of short stories. Maum is also the humor columnist behind the “Celebrity Book Review” series on Electric Literature, a frequent contributor to The Rumpus, and an advice columnist for Tin House. She splits her time between the Massachusetts Berkshires and New York City.
I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You—selected as a Best Book of 2014 by Real Simple, Bustle, Flavorwire, and Electric Literature—was published in a paperback edition earlier this month. Publishers Weekly awarded the title a starred review, noting: “An honest, staggeringly realized journey . . . Equally funny and touching, the novel strikes deep, presenting a sincere exploration of love and monogamy. These characters are complex, and their story reflects their confusion and desire. . . . An impressive, smart novel.” Further, the New York Times Book Review praised, “Maum is funny: the kind of funny that is mean and dirty, with some good bad words thrown in. And she has a satiric eye for artsy pretension … Enticing.”
From the publisher:
In this reverse love story set in Paris and London, which The Wall Street Journal hailed as “funny and soulful…immediately appealing,” a failed monogamist attempts to woo his wife back and to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love with your spouse?
Despite the success of his first solo show in Paris and the support of his brilliant French wife and young daughter, thirty-four-year-old British artist Richard Haddon is too busy mourning the loss of his American mistress to a famous cutlery designer to appreciate his fortune.
But after Richard discovers that a painting he originally made for his wife, Anne—when they were first married and deeply in love—has sold, it shocks him back to reality and he resolves to reinvest wholeheartedly in his family life…just in time for his wife to learn the extent of his affair. Rudderless and remorseful, Richard embarks on a series of misguided attempts to win Anne back while focusing his creative energy on a provocative art piece to prove that he’s still the man she once loved.
Skillfully balancing biting wit with a deep emotional undercurrent, this “charming and engrossing portrait of one man’s midlife crisis” (Elle) creates the perfect picture of an imperfect family—and a heartfelt exploration of marriage, love, and fidelity.
Now, Courtney Maum shares humor and heart …
1) What inspired you to write I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN HERE WITHOUT YOU – and how did you find the process of completing a full-length novel to compare to that of shorter works?
I was inspired to write this story because I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, where the going model for marriage was: wait until he cheats, lawyer up, take him for all he’s worth, keep the house and kids. When I was old enough to think about such things, I thought, surely there must be another paradigm. Has anyone ever tried to work it out? I was really interested in examining what that would look like: two disgruntled spouses living under the same roof with a child who are trying to forgive each other for a huge betrayal. I’d wonder, do they sit down to dinner every night? They’re probably still making grocery lists and visiting with friends and reading in bed at night beside each other, but under all these acts of normalcy, there’s this terrible dark sea. I wanted to dive in to that.
I think I’ve always had the potential to be a better novelist than short story writer. Even in conversation, people tell me that my stories run too long. Some of the literary magazine rejections I received over the past decade said that the short story I’d sent them sounded more like the beginning of a novel. I just don’t do a great job of keeping a story tight and compact and you need to have these skills to write a killer short story.
2) Why did you choose to write a male protagonist, and what were the challenges of doing so? Also, in what ways do you hope that Richard’s shortcomings and vulnerabilities (infidelity, lost youth, etc.) might resonate with readers?
I wanted to tell the story from the cheater’s point of view for several reasons. Namely, it would have been a pretty depressing read if I’d penned the whole thing from the POV of the spurned spouse. It’s no fun to read three hundred pages in the viewpoint of someone who’s angry—trust me, I’ve tried! Secondly, it’s much easier for me to fictionalize things the further I am away from my own self. I’m not a man and I’m not British. Richard is, so it made it easier to continue inventing his life from there. And finally, I do love me a good unlikeable narrator, and I was attracted to the challenge of trying to get readers to understand and maybe even sympathize with Richard Haddon. Being married myself, I felt like a lot of people could relate to the frustrations of monogamy, and so I went from there.
3) You use humor throughout the book. How does this benefit a story of such weighty subject matter – and what do you find to be the key(s) to balancing laughter with poignancy?
That’s a tough question. Basically, when I’m writing, I just look to life to show me what the balance of humor and heartache should be. For example, while I was writing this book I was pregnant with our first child. At the time, we had this Maine Coon cat that we were absolutely in love with and he developed serious heart problems a month before our daughter’s birth and had to be put down. The morning we came back from the vet with him in this disintegratable, windowless bag, there were guys working on the outside of a small addition to our house that was going to be the nursery, right near where we needed to bury our cat. We weren’t going to ask the guys to stop working because my due date was approaching and we needed the room done, so we buried our cat while these guys were singing along to “Love Shack” on this transistor radio they had with them. Heartache is always right there in bed with humor; life’s like that.
4) Richard’s artistry is a means by which he rediscover himself. What, in your opinion, is the relationship between creative expression and one’s sense of identity – and what of your own experiences were you able to draw upon?
When you’re a creative person, artistic expression is the life force within you. When you’re not working for whatever reason, you can feel cranky and blocked whereas when the work is going well, you’re a megalomaniac. A lot of artists, myself included, are solitary creatures who have great bursts of sociality—we’re a very volatile crew. And the nature of being an artist, the reality that no matter how successful you are you’ll probably never have health insurance through an employer, for example, makes it a profession where there are a lot of neuroses and insecurity involved. So I think artists are very vulnerable creatures who need their work—and other people’s reactions to it—to validate their self-worth.
5) You have also written book reviews, advice/humor columns, and a chapbook, among other things. How do these various disciplines inform one another – and does your approach differ depending on format?
These disciplines inform one another in that they keep me writing, and sometimes, switching from one form to another helps me to unblock something that wasn’t working in another project. Because of the platform, my online writing has to be short by necessity, and those humor and satire pieces have helped me be more succinct in my long form work. I’ve self-published a short story collection and I do have a chapbook out there—these experiences make me feel less panicked about the content of my project. For example, I know that if I want to do something really experimental in the future, I don’t have to feel too wretched about my publisher not wanting it because the option is there for me to publish and promote it myself.
6) What do you believe is the role of the bookstore within the community – and how might attending an author event (such as yours!) enhance the reader/writer relationship?
I’m a huge fan of live readings because it puts the human face back on this whole writing, reading thing. It is one thing to purchase a book on Amazon and have it show up in your mailbox, but it’s quite another to enter a lovely shop with real people who have a cubby in the staffroom, a Tupperware somewhere with their lunch in it, an entire space they go to daily fueled entirely by their love of books. And then you meet a writer at an event; someone who has probably spent ten years working on this project, someone who also has their lunch in a Tupperware in their car that they ate on their drive out to that bookshop, the writer too is struggling and making sacrifices for their art. It’s a beautiful relationship, the one between a book writer and a bookseller and a book reader, and we have the power, as consumers, to keep this literary chain alive. When you really get down to thinking about it, it’s incredible that bookstores and libraries still exist. I love them. I use them every week. It’s magical, what happens at a reading, even when it’s awkward. Sometimes it’s at its most magical when it’s awkward! It’s just so important to go out into the world and do these face-to-face human things.
With thanks to Courtney Maum for her generosity of time and thought and to Jessica Roth, Publicity Manager at Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster, Inc., for facilitating this interview.
Don’t forget: Courtney Maum will appear at R.J. Julia this Wednesday evening, April 29th, at 7:00 p.m.